An Introductory Buyer’s Guide to Notebooks

No portable computing product is quite so iconic as the compact, notebook. Cute, lightweight and streamlined, the notebook offers a strong, core-elements computing experience for users seeking a mobile machine for a reasonable price. They have become popular with traveling businessmen and tech-savvy students alike. However, there are certain factors to consider before making the decision to purchase notebooks. Their portability and low price do come at the expense of certain features, and a user would do well to make their choices carefully. If there are any terms you don’t understand please refer to our brief computer glossary.


After their low price, (starting under $200) the strongest selling point of notebooks has been their compactness. The average unit weighs approximately two to three pounds, and takes up little more space than your average trade hardback.

For simple tasks a limited screen size may not be a problem, but working with larger documents, spreadsheets, or multimedia tasks can be a headache for some with the smaller screens. There are notebooks on the market with bigger screens. Don’t let screen size be a deal breaker, most notebooks can be connected to an external monitor.


Similarly, keyboards on notebooks are typically MUCH smaller. The smaller screen variety have keyboards so cramped that it can crowd the fingers excessively, leading to typos and multi-key strokes for those not used to them. In addition, the compact layout forces notebook keyboards to map some keys with three functions, and place a corresponding ‘fn’ key near the space bar. This layout can significantly hinder typing speeds, depending on the tendencies of the user. However the keyboards on bigger screen notebooks are bigger, more comfortable to type on and feature an 18.5mm key pitch, that should help prevent strain on your wrists.


There are several processor choices available for notebook users, but the market is currently dominated by the Intel. All are reasonably powerful processors for the low end computing that notebooks are designed for. The Intel is currently the more widespread.

notebooks typically come with enough ram capacity in the default package, but can frequently be upgraded to more memory for extra performance without too much extra expense. Hard drive space ranges from a tiny SSD (solid state drive) to a more spacious one.


The basic battery on most notebooks is a 3-cell battery, and will typically perform for about two hours of standard use when away from a power source. 6-cell upgrades are available that can boost this to four, five or six hours + at the cost of an extra half pound of weight.


Wireless connectivity is one of the strongest features of notebooks. All brands can connect to wired Ethernet networks and 802.11b/g networks, but some also offer support for 802.11n, which gives much faster Wi-Fi network connections. Some models are also mobile compatible, so you just need to register for a mobile broadband account and pop in a SIM card. If you have a smartphone, you can connect it to a notebook via Bluetooth technology and use it as a wireless modem.


One other important consideration is the warranty. A one-year warranty is standard on most budget brands. However, some manufacturers like MSI do offer a two-year warranty as standard though, so check the small print before buying.


notebooks are incredibly useful tools, if used in their proper application. Their strengths lie in their ability to provide basic, core computing ability on the go – wireless web access, email, instant messaging, quick word processor documents, spreadsheet management and the like. Given their limited hardware however, they tend to under-perform in more intensive applications such as video display, 3D gaming, video and photo editing, or large data transfers.

For example, consider two of the users that portable computers are typically marketed to, the traveling businessman and the university student. The notebook’s portability will appeal to both – the low weight and compact size make it easy to slip into a backpack or briefcase for a few hours. The notebook can be used to take notes quickly, and the wireless access allows quick research and communication regarding important lecture or conference notes.

On the other hand, the limited processor and graphics capacity might make the notebook less than ideal if the businessman or student is giving a multimedia presentation for class, or a conference. This is changing though as processor power is improving month by month.

While some have a windows-based OS (XP or Windows 7), many run on modified Linux programs like Ubuntu – a different operating system can make it difficult to trade documents and networking materials with other users, creating more hassle for some than is necessary.

In short, notebooks can be considered a tool for the casual user. They make excellent traveling computers, and are priced favorably compared to higher powered notebooks. However, their programing and hardware limitations mean they are not a universal solution to all mobile computing problems. Compare and test out several different units against your personal needs before committing to any buying decisions.
Buying a notebook online with a credit card


When interested in a specific model make sure you research reviews online, is a good entry point for notebook research.

In the U.S NewEgg and Geeks are a couple of retailers to begin deal hunting. In the UK PC World and Ebuyer have a number of bargains at their warehouses. And don’t forget Amazon, there are always attractive deals to be had there.